Native Son: Characters
Richard Wright’s novel, Native Son, consisted of various main and supporting character to deliver an effective array of personalities and expression. Each character’s actions defines their individual personalities and belief systems. The main character of Native Son, Bigger Thomas has personality traits spanning various aspect of human nature including actions motivated by fear, quick temper, and a high degree of intelligence. Bigger, whom the novel revolves around, portrays various personality elements through his actions.
Many of his action suggest an overriding response to fear, which stems from his exposure to a harsh social climate in which a clear line between acceptable behavior for white’s and black’s exists. His swift anger and his destructive impulses stem from that fear and becomes apparent in the opening scene when he fiercely attacks a huge rat. The same murderous impulse appears when his secret dread of the delicatessen robbery impels him to commit a vicious assault on his friend Gus. Bigger commits both of the brutal murders not in rage or anger, but as a reaction to fear. His typical fear stems from being caught in the act of doing something socially unacceptable and being the subject of punishment. Although he later admits to Max that Mary Dalton’s behavior toward him made him hate her, it is not that hate which causes him to smother her to death, but a feeble attempt to evade the detection of her mother. The fear of being caught with a white woman overwhelmed his common sense and dictated his actions. When he attempted to murder Bessie, his motivation came from intense fear of the consequences of “letting” her live. Bigger realized that he could not take Bessie with him or leave her behind and concluded that killing her could provide her only “merciful” end.
The emotional forces that drive Bigger are conveyed by means other than his words. Besides reactions to fear, his actions demonstrate an extremely quick temper and destructive impulse as an integral part of his nature. Rage plays a key part in his basic nature, but does not directly motivate the murders he commits. Rage does not affect Bigger’s intelligence and quick thinking and it becomes evident during the interview with Briton. The detective makes Bigger so angry that the interrogation becomes a game to Bigger, a game of logic and wills, of playing the stupid negro, and telling the man exactly what he wants to hear. The game Bigger plays during the interrogation shows his great intelligence and ability to think quickly on his feet. Bigger also displayed his intelligence in the creation of the ransom note. Using the situation to his advantage, Bigger wrote a ransom note to extort Mary’s parents for money. To make the note even more convincing and to dissuade blame from himself, Bigger signs the note with the communist symbol of a hammer and sickle.
Although the book revolves around Bigger he possesses few good qualities, which get his horrendous actions negate, making him an anti-hero. He possess the violent tendencies to commit rape, extortion of the dead girls parents, robbing, and killing innocent people. These traits do not portray a simple victim of circumstance, but a habitual criminal acting out against a society. While Bigger dominates the story, his appalling actions make him a man that the reader can not look upon as a hero. In fact the author punishes the anti-hero character by condemning him to death for his crimes.
One of the two most sympathetic characterizations of white persons in the novel comes from the character of Jan Erlone, Mary Dalton’s friend. He exhibits an enthusiastic personality and represents an idealistic young organizer for the Communist party. Mary’s parents and their servant Peggy distrust his motives. Bigger initially expresses a distaste for “reds” when responding to Jan’s friendly advances during their first meeting. While receiving distrust from those around him, Jan retains a simple belief in the equality for all men, regardless of social class or race. Throughout Jan’s first meeting with Bigger, he regards Bigger with the utmost respect. During the course of the night, Jan sits in the front of the car with Bigger, eats with him, drinks with him, and speaks to